Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Divers Seek Jet's Aluminum Skin, a Key Clue to Blast

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Divers Seek Jet's Aluminum Skin, a Key Clue to Blast

Article excerpt

Investigators hoping to prove that TWA Flight 800 was destroyed by a bomb that blew off the cockpit and first-class cabin directed divers to search Sunday for a piece of the airliner's aluminum skin.

In order to declare the crash a crime, "We need that piece of sheet metal," an investigative source told The Associated Press.

The search focused on a field of debris on the ocean floor where the first collection of wreckage fell along the Paris-bound plane's flight path, including first-class seats and the front landing gear.

"Things that come off first tend to be an indicator of what happened," said Robert Francis, head of the search, explaining investigators' interest in the area. "We're always interested in what came off first."

Investigators were speculating that the explosion was caused by a bomb in the front cargo section, one of them said.

The two cargo holds of the 747 bound for Paris - one forward, one behind the wings - contained 8,304 pounds of freight, along with baggage from passengers. International passenger planes routinely carry several tons of cargo, freight that gets little if any screening.

TWA officials said no items required unusual handling or special permits aboard Flight 800. The cargo, they said, included items such as computer parts and magazines.

Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, would not confirm or deny the primacy of the bomb theory. But he said searchers were "obviously interested in anything in the front of the aircraft that might include the cockpit area."

The investigative source said a piece of the plane's aluminum skin close to the explosion would probably tell what caused the blast and whether the metal was pierced from the inside (a bomb) or the outside (a missile). The source said the jet apparently "flew without a front for 10 to 11 seconds" after the initial blast. …

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